Sunday was often an emergency room day. This morning as I lay in bed wondering what our day holds, I remembered that. We would have been busy on Saturday--running errands, driving kids, working in the yard. Somewhere during those mundane, life-filled hours his heart would have slipped out of rhythm. We would assess the situation and decide that Sunday morning was as convenient as any time to right the situation. We'd tell the kids the night before that we were making an early morning trip to the ER and hopefully we'd be home by lunch and then depending on how Eric was feeling we could be at church by 4:00. The emergency room was always less appealing than the heart hospital on Monday, but that would mean that someone else would have to get the kids home from school and I would either miss work entirely or be the uncaring wife who had sent her husband into the hospital alone, only to pick him up after work hours--I had played both roles so many times that both of us had lost count. Emergency Room Sundays gave us time together to fix a problem, without creating additional ones.
We usually got up around 7:00 so we could make the 17 mile trip. We figured this timing sandwiched us between the Saturday night crowd and the Sunday morning snow shovelers, runners and falling elderly. Depending on the weather and time of year, we'd make predictions during our drive on how many rooms would be ahead of us. There's always the drunk in room one, sleeping it off. The elderly lady with chest pain in room two and someone probably just looking for pain meds in room three. I would drop him off at the door so that he wouldn't have to walk the steep incline from the parking lot and by the time I made my way in he was usually safely behind the glass getting his vitals taken by the nurse. I'd glance over the waiting room to see what we had for competition. Full waiting room means full emergency room.
We'd quickly establish that we had been through this drill far too many times and that we weren't some crazies who had been using some online search engine to figure out if we were really sick. As we walked back to room 15--our room--we'd glance at the rooms we passed making mental checks of which predictions were correct or incorrect regarding our fellow emergency room clients.
As we waited for our "staff" we'd say a little prayer that the nurse would have a personality and that the doctor wouldn't be young. Young doctors have to do everything by the book--they can't help it. Older doctors--or better yet, ones we've seen before--make this whole process faster and less painful. The nurse would come in--with or without a personality--and take Eric's vitals, ask it he was having any pain, shortness of breath, yada, yada, yada. They'd ask him to repeat his name and birthday a couple of times, which he'd always follow by rattling off his patient ID number which would impress them like nothing else. They'd laugh and realize that we would be the easy room to deal with and that we had run this drill before.
Alone in the room, we'd talk about every day things mostly--what was up for the week, if there was someone who could cover for Eric's Sunday school class, if a prescription needed to be picked up. When the conversation would lull, he would look at me and say, "I'm so sorry to put you through this." It seemed such a silly thing to say, but I'm certain he said it every time. I would shrug my shoulders and assure him that he wasn't alone, we were in this thing together and that I was okay and I was married to the bravest person I would ever know.
There are two visits that mostly stand out in my mind and I document them mostly so that they don't slip away from me as so many things do these days. The first was years back, one of our early Sunday runs when these ER visits seemed more serious and less routine. I looked at him and said, "I know you must be weary of this." He assured me that he was just fine and things would be back to normal soon. I told him through tears, "If you can go, then go. I won't blame you for leaving all of this behind for what's waiting for you. Who's to know if you're ever given the choice, but if you are, know that we'll be fine and we'll be there soon." I'm sure that he thought I was just being dramatic, but in that moment and even today it was important for me to let him know that he didn't have to continue to struggle for us, that he had some silly permission from me to pass from this life to the next. I needed him to know that I could continue without him if that were my only choice and that I loved him enough to not want to see him struggle in his earthly body any longer than he had to.
The second was the Sunday after I was diagnosed. As he was being attended to by various medical personnel, we made eye contact and he saw that my eyes were filling with tears. I was overcome with the notion that the two us would be switching places. That I would be the one in the bed, being attended by nurses and doctors and that he'd be sitting in my chair. In my head I remember thinking, "I'm so sorry you have to go through this." I didn't know how I was going to play the role of patient and I was even more concerned about him playing both roles. My cancer would, Lord willing, be gone some day, but he would always carry his heart. He smiled in a way that wordlessly understood all the sadness I held inside and said, "Why don't you take a walk, I'm in good hands." I quickly exited and made my way through the maze of hospital halls that had became all too familiar to me. I found myself in the elevators in the Piper Building which leads to the offices of the Virginia Piper Breast Center--where I would find myself for appointments over the next days. As I stepped off the elevator I stood face to face with the entrance to the office. It was quiet, doors closed, a soft glow back-lighting the row of three delicate tea cups that decorated the ledge above the office name. It was beautiful, tastefully decorated, inviting under any other circumstances. The crippling part was that this beautiful office was going to be the ugly scene of the reality of my life. I traced the elegant lettering on the cold, glass door. Without warning, a sob worked its way out and I quickly retreated to a nearby bathroom. As I slumped to the floor I wept all the tears that I had bravely held in for the last couple of days. I cried for our life that had been forever changed, I cried for my husband sitting in an ER bed, I cried for my kids getting their own breakfast at home, I cried for the future which terrified me, I cried for the unfairness of it all. I wanted to bargain with God--get me through this, give me healing, heal my husband's heart, spare my children all of this...but I all I could pray in that quiet bathroom stall was "help". It's all that would come out and it seemed the only word to utter at that moment. Some days it's still my prayer of choice.
So on this sunny Sunday morning, I have to smile at the strange fact that today I woke up wishing I could make one more Sunday Emergency Room run. They were sweet days where the world stood still for a few hours and we got to love each other in sickness and in health. In those heavy moments we had conversations that erased hard words and wiped away future regrets. They were snippets of time where we were allowed to find sabbath rest in the love that God intended for us to enjoy not only on his holy day, but each and every day.